Three Women Religious Serving on the Texas Border Receive National Honor from Catholic Extension for Their Life-Changing Work Among the Poor

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Unsung heroes built a church, created a community of hope

Winners of Catholic Extension's 2014 Lumen Christi Award

Sister Emily Jocson, Sister Fatima Santiago and Sister Carolyn Kosub are the recipients of the 2014 Lumen Christi Award.

The sisters are living out what Pope Francis has called all of us to do – to go out into the streets and serve. We hope that by honoring them they might inspire others to do the same.

Three women religious from The Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are being recognized nationally for their work among the poor and immigrant people of Penitas, Texas, located near the U.S. – Mexico border. Catholic Extension has named the sisters as the 2014 recipients of its Lumen Christi Award, which in Latin means “Light of Christ.” Catholic Extension is a national organization dedicated to supporting and strengthening the Catholic Church in the poorest regions of the United States. For the past 37 years, through its Lumen Christi Award, the organization has recognized a priest, woman religious or layperson whose work is transforming the hearts and lives of the people they serve. As the 2014 recipients, the sisters will receive a grant of $25,000 in support of their ministry; in addition, the Diocese of Brownsville, which nominated the sisters, also will receive a $25,000 grant.

The three women, Sister Carolyn Kosub, Sister Emily Jocson and Sister Fatima Santiago, first came to the tornado-stricken colonia of Pueblo de Palmas, in Penitas in 2003 at the request of then-Bishop Raymondo J. Pena. Upon arrival, the sisters were shocked not only by the destruction they encountered, but also by the poverty. They also were deeply moved by the richness of faith they found there, so they decided to make this colonia the focus of their missionary efforts. The sisters moved into the community, secured a convent and began to live in solidarity with the residents.

Since that time, they have worked tirelessly to listen to the residents, establish trust and meet their most basic needs. In 2004, they created Proyecto Desarrollo Humano (The Project for Human Development), an outreach center dedicated to evangelization, health, social services and education.

Through the center, the sisters have worked to develop human potential, strengthen family bonds and help the residents of Pueblo de Palmas obtain the basic skills to succeed. The center contains classroom space for instruction and activities, a kitchen and hall space for large assemblies, a computer lab, a medical and dental clinic, and a pre-kindergarten classroom.

According to Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, no other ministry like Proyecto Desarrollo Humano is serving the needs of the colonia.

The sisters have empowered the residents of Pueblo de Palmas and built a true faith-based community. The people served by the center live at or below the federal poverty level, relying on irregular income, which the men earn from day labor jobs in agriculture and construction. Most of the women are mothers who are learning English through the center’s English as a Second Language classes. They are realizing their full potential by means of the Women's Wellness Program and leadership training.

“We have real mission territory here in the traditional sense, with people living way below the poverty line, struggling in their everyday lives and speaking no English,” said Sister Carolyn Kosub. “This is where we belong as missionaries, to do the best we can, work with the people and learn from them. I see the face of God very strongly in them – this is living Christianity.”

In 2009, in answer to an outpouring from the strengthened community, the sisters took yet another bold step – they secured donations, found a plot of land and supervised construction of a brand new church, which was dedicated in 2013 and is home to the newest parish in the Diocese of Brownsville. Today, in an area that was once a drug-smuggling highway, St. Anne Church gleams as a symbol of hope and possibility. It is a thriving parish with three dependent mission, which extend the Church’s presence throughout Hidalgo County, Texas. “Having this church, the community center and these sisters here with us is to have the presence of God among us,” said a Saint Anne parishioner and resident of Penitas.

“The work of the sisters on the border shows why women religious are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the Catholic Church,” said Catholic Extension Vice President of Mission Joe Boland. “They represent hope to the people of the Rio Grande Valley, particularly the women and children, who face daily battles with extreme poverty. The sisters are living out what Pope Francis has called all of us to do – to go out into the streets and serve. We hope that by honoring them they might inspire others to do the same.”

In addition to building faith among the people, the sisters have developed a strong network of volunteers whose lives also are being transformed. The volunteers, who come from all parts of the United States, are helping with everything from cooking and serving a community Thanksgiving dinner to supporting other major sacramental and liturgical celebrations.

In reflecting upon the sisters’ work, Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said, “From the moment we had an opportunity to visit Proyecto Desarrollo Humano, we were awed by the work of these sisters and their love for the people they serve. We also were struck by how through faith, the sisters have visibly transformed this community. It is their faith that reveals to the people of the Rio Grande Valley that they are more than their impoverished circumstances. Catholic Extension is privileged to witness the sisters’ life-changing work.”

The sisters will be honored during a special Mass at St. Anne Church followed by a community celebration in mid-November. For more information on Catholic Extension, and to read more about the impactful work of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the Diocese of Brownsville, please visit http://www.catholicextension.org.

The Diocese of Brownsville, located in the Rio Grande Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico border, has 1.26 million people, with approximately 1.07 million Catholics, making it the most densely populated Catholic diocese in the United States.

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About Catholic Extension: Catholic Extension, a papal society, has been supporting Catholics on the margins in America since 1905. Based in Chicago, Catholic Extension provides funding to dioceses and parishes to support programs and services that invest in people, their ministries and their churches. It has distributed more than $500 million to communities across America. For more information visit http://www.catholicextension.org.

About the Lumen Christi Award: Meaning “Light of Christ” in Latin, the Lumen Christi Award is presented to a priest, woman religious or layperson working in a mission diocese served by Catholic Extension. Lumen Christi award recipients have devoted their lives to serving the poor in the most under-resourced dioceses in the United States, and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change. Since its inception in 1978, the award has been given to a bishop, 14 laypeople, 19 sisters, eight priests and two brothers, totaling nearly $2 million awarded to the recipients and their dioceses. For more information visit http://www.catholicextension.org.

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